Current research suggests that our phones and other electronic devices are anatomically re-wiring the ways in which we think, behave and focus. Recently, I read about a news story that documented the effects of voicemail, text and email notifications on the brain. The TV special featured a well-known national news anchor as the guinea pig for the experiment.
At the start of the program, neurologists and other doctors attached to the news anchor a variety of probes and receptors to measure his brain waves and heart rate. Subsequently, they placed the man’s phone across the room and out of sight, but within earshot. In the span of several minutes, the researchers repeatedly called, emailed and texted the man’s phone.
Immediately, the man became agitated and started to fidget. Hearing the buzzes, dings and strums without knowing what they were ignited the probes that were monitoring his brain and heart activity. As the experiment progressed, without the opportunity to attend to his phone, the man could no longer focus his thoughts. He became irritated to the point at which he was genuinely struggling under the anxiety of being separated from his phone. The man was clearly distraught and felt desperate to reengage with his device.
I connected the dots for myself. My mind can only manage so many items before it overloads…leaving my brain to operate on reserve power. The notifications on my phone are often the equivalent of the “junk mail” that is delivered to my mailbox at home. Mostly unsolicited and destined for the trash.
I’m willing to admit that I have difficulty multi-tasking. Absent of my strong commitment and resolve, I naturally have a short attention span. On any given morning, my wife can juggle a dozen different things with a calmness that soothes anyone else who is awake at the time. On the other hand, I may be focused on making toast and resisting distractions that tempt me from that singular task. My ineffectiveness when trying to multi-task is something with which I wrestle on most days.
Knowing this about myself, can I afford to trade in my precious reserves of focused energy to respond to the endless electronic notifications that are bound to hold me hostage? Turning off my phone, how can I turn on the notifications that truly matter to me; that drive more meaningful behavior? I am convinced that we need to set our phones on silent.
We need instead to enable the internal notifications that were on-boarded in us by our Creator. We need to more finely hone our ability to pick-up on non-verbals; to listen with our ears and hearts in response to those closest to us.
- My wife doesn’t ding when she needs a hug, or a hand, or some heartfelt thanks. I MUST STAY VIGILANT SO THAT I CAN SEIZE A MOMENT!
- My children don’t strum when they need a word of encouragement, some help studying or some advice on how to navigate a tricky bend in their road. I MUST BE AROUND THEM AT HOME AND ENGAGED!
- Friends don’t vibrate when they are feeling despondent or hopeless in some important part of their life. I MUST REACH OUT TO THEM AND STAY CLOSE!
- Working associates don’t piano riff to let me know that they need my assistance in better aligning with some important initiative at work. I MUST REMAIN PLIABLE AND ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS!
- My soul doesn’t chime as loudly as I would like when it needs attention and a space to go for room to grow back. I MUST CONTINUALLY BEFRIEND SILENCE AND SOLITUDE.
I cannot maneuver within the depths that real connection requires while at the same time, allowing myself to be ruled by the tyranny of the instant and immediate. All the trivial banter leads me away from real intimacy.
Limiting the ability of my phone to grab my time and attention changes the quality of the real-life connections I make throughout my day. The difference in depth and quality of experience is akin to running through a sprinkler on a hot summer day versus my spending the day at the YMCA in the deep end of the pool. I get wet in both instances, but there is no comparison otherwise.
The more discipline that we can reclaim from the Pavlovian responses that have hijacked our attention, the greater chance that we have of living a life uncommon. Regardless of what we say, we love what we give our time and attention to; these things drive our behavior…and outcomes. What we focus on invariably becomes!
Thomas “TD” Dierker
Live like you’re dying…. cause you are!